It was a day of great exhilaration for me because I love theatre and very rarely get to see it blossom to its full splendour in the small town to which I belong.
So you can imagine my thrill when I was captivated, charmed and completely crushed by the depth and aura of a man named Naseerudin shah.
I went for the staging of one of his longest running plays “Ismat aapa ke naam” a rendition and dedication to Ismat Chughtai...the great novelist of the 1940’s who was hailed as too progressive for her times by the society and her own community. I essentially went for the protagonist, the lead actor and the director of it all- the acting stalwart Naseeruddin shah and boy, was I not disappointed.
After a very frustrating wait of about a quarter of an hour, the play finally went under way and much to my exhilaration, the man himself came onto the stage and then on began to cast the mesmerizing spell....
He started up with an address that at once connected him to the spell bound audience. Here was a man, barely 5 feet and some inches in height, slender in frame, the hair turning strikingly silver and yet he had the capacity and balls to hold the interest of a 1000 odd people from diverse backgrounds with his mere words. His gait exuberated confidence, his diction was unblemished and the way his expressions gave company to his words and his tone vibrated with the emotions...it was all simply flawless. Very rarely does one see perfection at its best and I was blessed to be witnessing it dance to the tune of the master artist.
The play was divided into three narratives of Ismat Chughtai’s tales depicting different aspects of the society of her times with the focus on women. The first part was narrated by Naseer’s daughter Heeba Shah and depicted in a mock casual way, how a low born woman gives birth to a child in a train compartment and the reactions to the entire process by three onlookers, women of different age groups, and their horrors of it. The narrator here was so young in her age but so impeccable in transporting us to the scene, that my mind began to create a pertinent picture of it all. I was there while the woman sat outside the bathroom door cutting the umbilical cord of her just born baby, with a nail scissors she borrowed and then picked up the bundle of the child, cleaned the floor with her clothes and walked on her way as if it was all part of the day’s work. So powerful were the words, that without any props or hamming actors crowding the stage, the audience got hauled to the appa’s time and were transfixed to what may have been just a figment of her imagination.
The second part was narrated by Naseer’s wife Ratna Pathak Shah...who is unmatched in her brilliance herself. But while praising her I get a little biased simply because I have an unbelievable crush on her husband as of now. She narrated the gatha of Ghonghat...or Mughal Bachcha...again delving in the depths of satire...of the Gori be- the 12 year old bride who got married to Kaale miyyan, who made her wait till she was a 59 years old for the unveiling of her ghoonghat...and she lived alone all these years, a life of no reason or meaning, and with no complains, ignoring the yearnings of her beautiful body, mind and soul. The delicacy with which the author uses humour sometimes dry and wry and at other moments just touching the borders of being provocative and yet not obscene, is remarkable.
And then at the end of it all came His narration...like they say, save the best for last. While all of us in the audience were wriggling our toes with cold in the 4 degree temperature....here was the man dressed in crisp white starched cotton-linen kurta pajama, gesticulating and using the entire stage space...creating before us a typical market scene or a bedroom one...
Tickling us with a sweet romance and then slowly allowing us to break out in guffaws with that perfect timing and elucidation.
He told the story of Lajjo and the Mirza...who fall for each other against all odds. They commence as a servant and master, upgrading to the alter for a nikah, and then jumping upon an adulterous affair leading to a talaakh and eventually, she becoming the Gharwali again. Within about half an hour the whole story was spun. And I just sat there batting the eyelids but not being aware of doing so...because my eyes wandered with him as he paced about so menacingly, my ears were glued to his deep throated voice and my mouth was pasted with a perennial ear to ear smile for all that time.
Yes, I was amused and over joyed.
Partly because I could relate to Ismat Aapa and thought I would read more of her...
Partly and more importantly because of the seasoned performances...which gave me a rare experience of perpetrating a different world.
Naseeruddin Shah was electrifying...his ebbing energy and natural ease with the characterization was a pleasure to behold. Even when he spoke Urdu words that were hard to fathom for the layman, his tone and expressions worked overtime to get home the picture to the audience.
I also returned home with questions about the life and sufferings of the women of that age and how certain things have changed with times, yet the fabric of the society remains pretty much the same. How far reaching would be the foresight of the lady in the 1940’s to create yarns that appeal to the audience of 2009. Sometimes you cannot express genius in words, they just aren’t enough. So I would just bow down my head in humble respect and acknowledgement of it all and hope and pray for more such enlightment coming my way!